Hill country roots
Deep in the Ozark Mountains in Southern Missouri, there is still a place that remains untouched by the ravages of time. The trees are so thick that you’ve got to hack them away if you want any sunlight to reach your little garden. But to get to the garden, you’ve got to pick out thousands of rocks that seem to multiply every time a hoe hits the soil. Hunting is not a sport. It’s a way of life. It’s about food on the table.
It’s in those hills that my own history begins. My father, Cecil Ray High, left the Ozarks to join the military at age 18 and soon found himself on a ship overseas to Japan. While stationed there he met and married my mom, Kimi, a pretty Japanese girl. It wasn’t long, however, before my father’s tour of service ended, and they were back on a boat to America. They soon had a child in tow, then another, followed by three more. I was the fifth child in a family of six. After my dad left the military, he worked to provide for his family, but these were years of struggle. Simply put, we were poor.
The first house I remember was a two-bedroom rental. The house had no heat other than a big kerosene stove that occupied the center of our little kitchen. My mom stuffed three little kids in a single bed for warmth. We woke up on winter mornings with ice on the inside of the windows. An electrical fire ended our stay at that house.
Losing my dad
It was after the house fire that my dad said his luck had run out. He turned to the bottle, and life never really did seem to get better. He bounced from job to job, but usually ended his day with a few beers at the local tavern, which ate up our money.
By the time I was 10, he was a raging alcoholic and chain smoker. We kids had learned to hide from his fits of anger. His health declined rapidly, and when he finally went to the doctor the diagnosis was lung cancer. Eighteen months later, just before Christmas in 1974, he was gone.
After his passing, my mom did the only thing she knew. She got her driver’s license at age 46 and got a job. She began working in the local school cafeteria. By working at the school, she could still see us at lunchtime and be home when we got home. She was up early fixing us a brown bag lunch, and back at the stove in the evening fixing us dinner.
A season of healing
This began a new season of recovery, healing, and recognizing God's generosity. A local pastor talked to my mom about Jesus, and she trusted in Him. My other siblings slowly began to encounter Jesus. From the pages of scripture, I learned to dream.
Despite being dirt poor, our family drew together more than ever before. It was clear God truly does defend the widow and is a father to the fatherless. We were the family no one expected anything from, but God had His own plans.
Career and calling
It is no coincidence that today I work in the generosity world. My mom’s choices to fight for our well-being—to spend herself for the success of her kids—deeply shaped me and the rest of my siblings. After earning a degree in secondary language arts education from the University of Missouri, I went on to the University of Kansas School of Law. From there, I practiced law with one of the largest firms in the region (see my professional background for more).
After volunteering in the urban core, God directed my next steps in the year 2000 to starting a charitable foundation which at that time was known as the Servant Foundation. It was a great step to resign from the law firm and to begin a start-up. Even to this day, there are so many wonderful relationships that arose out of that time.
Along the way I've recognized how generosity is tied to family legacy. Giving creates a shared purpose as a family works through the key issues that prepare them to thrive for generations. I've had the privilege to consult with many families who are committed to establishing a healthy multi-generational family that makes an impact for good in the world.
I’m just an ordinary man, but I feel I’ve been given an extraordinary life. As a result of everything I’ve received and experienced, my personal mission is to change the way people think about the values of family, legacy and generosity—and their practice of them.